WASHINGTON: Baloch separatist leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti has said that he is not against political dialogue with the Pakistani government but those talks should focus on Baloch demands.
Mr Bugti was among half a dozen speakers, including former ambassador Husain Haqqani, who attended an event held to mark the death anniversary of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti here at the National Press Club.
“We are political people, we will talk. We are prepared for dialogue on the rights of the Baloch people,” said Mr Bugti, speaking via Skype from Geneva.
He said the dilemma was that even if the present government agreed to some formula, there was no guarantee that the next government or the army would respect such an agreement.
“Why ask us? Why don’t you ask the Pakistani government, the army if they want to talk? If you are afraid of asking them, then admit that you are afraid,” he told a Pakistani journalist who urged him to engage with Islamabad.
Mr Bugti expressed the hope that India was not using Balochistan as a “tit for tat” to get even with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.
“The two problems — Kashmir and Balochistan — are different with different historical backgrounds,” he emphasised.
The heavy Indian and Pakistani presence at the event betrayed the growing tension between the two neighbours over this question. Some Indians criticised the US State Department for saying that Washington believed in Pakistan’s territorial integrity and did “not support the demand for Balochistan’s independence”.
Pakistanis shouted back, saying that they would never allow the break-up of their country.
Since the organisers — the “American Friends of Balochistan” — did not allow non-journalists to ask questions, they confronted the speakers during the tea breaks of the day-long seminar.
At one tea break, a Pakistani member of the audience asked Husain Haqqani as to how could he demand a ban on US military aid to Pakistan when he also was Islamabad’s envoy in Washington in the recent past. The comment led to a shouting match between the two, and soon others also joined the fracas.
Earlier, Mr Bugti demanded suspension of US military assistance to Pakistan, adding that he hoped unlike the Obama administration, the next US administration would be more receptive to Baloch demands and suspend its assistance to Pakistan.
He claimed that the larger Pakistani society had already alienated the Baloch people by ignoring their plight.
“There are regular debates in the Pakistani media on petty things, but never on Balochistan,” he complained. “No one comes out to stop the genocide, they don’t care about us.”
Mr Haqqani said that as a Pakistani he wanted Balochistan to remain in Pakistan but if the government also had this objective — it should redress the grievances of the Baloch people.
Peter Tatchell, a British scholar, demanded that international aid agencies and human rights groups should be given access to Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2016